Recognized as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Dec 6, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2019):
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon recently launched the "BrightIdeas@Blakes" initiative to challenge employees across the firm to contribute ideas to improve client service or efficiency
- Along with maternity leave top-up payments, Blake, Cassels & Graydon maintains a New Mothers Network at its Toronto office and established a "ReLaunch" program to help reintegrate female lawyers who have taken a break from their careers to focus on their families
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon is an active member of the community, providing over 13,000 hours of pro bono legal services to a number of organizations in the past year, including Connect Legal, a Toronto-based not-for-profit corporate legal clinic that connects immigrant entrepreneurs with commercial lawyers for free legal help
Blakes thrives with Bright Ideas from employees
Earlier this year, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, known as Blakes, turned to its 850 people in its Toronto head office for ideas on how to "make Blakes work better, faster and smarter." The firm's goal was to promote an innovation culture through a unique and robust program focused on enhancing service to the law firm's clients and improving the workplace.
"We value our people and are always looking for ways to get them more engaged," explains Mary Jackson, Chief Officer, Professional Resources. "Our employees are the ones closest to the action, and we want to tap into their innovative ideas."
Soon to be rolled out to the firm's other offices across the country, BrightIdeas@ Blakes was launched as a challenge to get people excited about sharing ideas - big or small - and working toward a common goal. In addition to boosting employee engagement, BrightIdeas@Blakes is intended to cultivate ingenuity. Says Jackson: "We are living in a time of great and rapid technological change, as well as change in what our clients expect from us. We need to rethink how we do things so we can respond to those changes.
The challenge was a success. More than half the office came together to participate for weekly prizes. The firm received more than 330 suggestions, ranging from a book exchange to improving the firm's business intake process, which was the grand-prize winner of a flight for two to anywhere in North America.
Even how BrightIdeas@Blakes works is innovative. It is much more than a sophisticated suggestion box. Ideas are posted on the campaign's website where staff can also comment on other people's suggestions and mark a "like" for those they consider especially worthy. "The ability to comment on the ideas of others fosters collaboration, sometimes among people whose paths might not otherwise cross in the office," Jackson says.
For Business Development Specialist Jessica Khuong, that collaborative spirit the firm nearly four years ago after working there for eight months as a university co-op student. "I was looking for fulfilling and challenging work, and I was immediately thrown into the fire, working on a project with a senior partner."
After a few months, Khuong's manager encouraged her to apply for a new role within the same department. "It shows the organization cares about your development," Khuong says. "They really want you to succeed, and she pushed me to apply."
Khuong was successful in getting the position, and her former manager remains a trusted mentor. "I have grown here and will continue to grow," she says.
As for the workplace itself, Khuong says people who have visited her high above the city in one of its bank towers are impressed with the spacious layouts with human touches, such as a telescope in the reception area. There are special rooms for meditation or wellness activities and lounges where employees can relax with pinball machines or table hockey. Showers onsite meet the needs of those who cycle or jog to work. The cafeteria offers a daily healthy lunch for just $5.
But more important for Khuong are the caring and supportive people she works with. "We all get engaged in charitable community activities," she says. "It makes me proud to work with people who care about helping others."
And with people who help her grow professionally. "Here I am," she says, "just a few years into the job, and I'm already working on an important project with the firm's managing partner. It doesn't get much better than that."
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 1, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2018):
- For the past decade, Blake, Cassels & Graydon has provided support, mentorship, networking opportunities and personal and professional resources for its female employees through the "Women@Blakes" network -- the network maintains an internal website, publishes quarterly newsletters and organizes internal and external seminars and events, such as the firm's annual Women's Event
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon also manages the "Stepping Up: Preparing to Be a GC" leadership development program to help increase the number of female general counsels -- and, in partnership with Women General Counsel Canada and Legal Leaders for Diversity, is hosting a "Women on Boards Exchange Forum" to support the advancement of female general counsels to board opportunities
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon participates in the Internationally Trained Lawyers Program, a bridging program that includes academic courses, cultural competency and language training, career workshops and internship opportunities -- additionally, the firm partners with St. Gabriel Adult Learning Centre on its foreign-trained professional co-op program
Blakes defends the right to be yourself
Rahat Godil was about to give birth and, like so many other pregnant working women, she faced a dilemma. As a senior associate lawyer at Blake, Cassels & Graydon (known as Blakes) in Toronto, Godil wanted to take the full one-year maternity leave but feared that might stall -- perhaps even derail -- her path to partnership. Taking only a few months might be a good career move, but as a new mother she really wanted to have the option to maximize the time with her baby.
In the end, Godil did not have to choose. "My Practice Group Leader told me to take the full year," she says. "So I did, and then I became a partner within a year of returning to work."
Adds Godil: "I love Blakes for that. Their understanding and support enhanced my loyalty and renewed my commitment to stay."
Indeed, Godil, the first Muslim woman partner at Blakes, was not entirely sure how long she would stay when she joined the firm a decade ago. "As a Muslim woman, as someone who did not drink, who fasted during Ramadan, as a person of colour who did not grow up in Canada, I thought I might not fit in," she says. "But I was wrong? very wrong."
She adds: "Blakes is a place where you can be yourself. It's a place that allows you to thrive and reach your full potential. If I had not felt valued for who I am -- if I'd had to cover up integral aspects of my life -- that would have been stifling. It would also have prevented me from being a good lawyer, and I probably would have quit."
For Mary Jackson, Chief Officer, Professional Resources, Godil's story reflects how Blakes, one of Canada's leading business law firms, has evolved in recent years. "There was once a time when people didn't talk about differences," Jackson says. "Now we celebrate them. People are encouraged and are brave in being much more open."
In 1993, a quarter century ago, Blakes was one of the first in the legal profession to establish an equity and diversity committee. The initiative is now known as diversity and inclusiveness, and it's still a work in progress, Jackson says. "We are still working on increasing our diversity, but we also focus on taking more measures to make sure that people bring their whole selves to work, that they feel included and supported."
Jackson has been particularly involved in "pipeline initiatives" that work to increase the number and success of diverse students choosing careers in business law as well as in programming to support parents in the workforce. Blakes offers coaching before, during and after parental leaves to ensure that new parents experience as little career disruption as possible.
The pay-off for such efforts is enormous. "When people feel truly respected and appreciated for who they are, they are stronger and more creative at work," Jackson says. She acknowledges that diversity and inclusion efforts are not only the right thing to do but also benefit the firm. "As we continue to expand and adapt these initiatives, we are building an increasingly diverse, committed and compassionate workforce," she says. "It's a pretty fantastic upside. We recognize that."
In addition to focusing on its own workforce, Blakes collaborates with clients and the business community to advance diversity and inclusion more broadly in corporate Canada. Blakes is a founding member of corporate Canada's 30% Club and has already surpassed that group's goal of achieving at least 30-per-cent-female representation at the top management level by 2022. The firm's 12-person executive committee now has four women -- and counting.